Teaching Online vs. Teaching in a Classroom

Authored by:
Michelle N.

Michelle N.

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to Europe & travel for a year.  My mother, knowing that I was opportunistic, told me that if I went to Europe, I would never come back, & I would never finish college.  She also said that if I decided to go ahead & finish college, she would pay for my college degree, & then, I could go to Europe, if I wanted.  That sounded like a good deal to me, so I took it.  I received two majors in Spanish & English & a minor in Japanese.  After college, instead of going to Europe, I was awarded a scholarship to study in Japan for a year.  This was long before the internet, cell phones, Skype, etc… It took three weeks for me to mail a letter to the United States & three weeks to receive one back.  It was one of the most difficult years of my life, for multiple reasons.  I was completely isolated from my friends & family for the first time in my life.  I was immersed in a culture which was very different from mine, in a place where I did not look like anyone, act like anyone, or speak the language fluently.  It was an eye-opening experience on many levels.  Long story short, when I got back to the States, all I wanted to do was be near my friends & reconnect with my culture, heritage, & former life. Europe would become a distant dream, not to be realized for another 17 years, when I turned 40.   Please don’t misunderstand me—I wouldn’t take anything for the experience I had in Japan.  It was a wonderful experience, & I am eternally grateful for it.  I’m also eternally grateful to my mother for paying for my college education.  So, how does all of this relate to teaching in a classroom & teaching online?   

While I was at the University of Alabama, I was a conversation partner for the English Language Institute for foreign students studying there.  Later, I was a liaison for groups of 25 students who would come from Japan & South Korea to do five-week intensive courses.  While in Japan, I taught young beginners in English at an after-school school.  My original reason for getting degrees in languages was to become a translator for the United Nations or for international companies.  While I was in Japan, I spoke at least three or four languages daily.  I swear, I had a headache for a year.  I quickly learned that there was a big difference between theory & reality.  In theory, I loved learning & speaking other languages.  I still do.  However, what I didn’t know is how much it would hurt my brain to translate into multiple languages daily. I also learned that I really didn’t like teaching little kids.  I didn’t mind teaching a group, but I thought it was very inefficient.  So, when I came back to the States, I got a job as a travel agent & left most of the translating & teaching world behind for decades.  

Fast-forward to March, 2011.  I had been subscribing to a TEFL website which listed jobs abroad for years, because I had never really given up on my dream of living in Europe some day.  One day, I saw an advertisement for teaching Japanese business people online. Since I had degrees in languages & had spent a year in Japan, I applied for the job.  The interview was very strange.  The guy acted as if he forgot about our interview, was very unprofessional, didn’t ask me many questions, & ended the interview very quickly.  I was promptly told that I didn’t get the job in an e-mail later that day.  Many people would have gotten upset or given up at that point. I didn’t. I knew I had a lot to offer, so I applied at two other online companies.  Both offered me jobs the same day. I went with the one I liked better, & I have been teaching online with that company ever since.  Every day, five days a week, I get up & teach people English all over the world, & I think it’s got to be one of the best jobs I have ever had. I can’t imagine doing anything different.   

Having the experience of teaching TEFL in a classroom in another country gave me a unique insight to be able to compare it to teaching online.  I discovered that I love teaching individuals rather than groups, because I feel as if I can better pinpoint, assess, & evaluate my students’ needs. Teaching from home allows me to have flexibility in my schedule, so when my students are on vacation, I am also able to take time off to travel.  One of the best things about teaching online is having the support of other teachers around the globe.  They understand the challenges we face, & we have an online community to post tips, pedagogical ideas, & advice.  Some of us even get to know each other individually & collaborate to know how to help our students better.  While teaching groups isn’t my favorite thing to do, they are still small enough groups to manage & their levels are all relatively the same. That’s a huge benefit compared with teaching a classroom full of students with different levels & needs.  Probably the thing I love most about teaching online is that I prepare the lessons for them at least a week in advance & can assign several weeks of lessons so that they can work ahead if they have a business or school trip planned.  Our platform is interactive & uses a flipped classroom method for teaching, so the students are invested in their own learning before we have our classes.  Many of my students love this, because they can prepare & practice before our classes, which helps them feel more confident.  They can also ask questions about vocabulary words they don’t know or grammar points they need to have explained in more detail.   

Through the advancement of technology, online education has finally done what the world has needed for a long time—bring education to people rather than people having to seek an education.  I feel very lucky to be able to share my knowledge with people around the world every day & teaching online allows me to help people that I would otherwise never get to meet.  So, what are you waiting for? The world is at your fingertips! 


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