Theodora PapapanagiotouTeaching Online: Can It Work?

Theodora Papapanagitou


Some people believe it is extremely difficult to teach online as it creates a distance between students and the teacher. Students’ parents are skeptical (can it actually work?…) and teachers who are not so familiar with technology do not support this way of teaching either. Once there is this distance, there is no real interaction and, consequently, there is never going to be a successful lesson if the teacher is not actually close to the learner. That is a myth. Learning can happen in all sorts of environments as long as we are all willing to work towards the goal. 

Personally, I have never seen distance or technology as a barrier to my teaching. On the contrary, I view them as an opportunity to learn new things and experiment on what I can and can’t do. And here’s how it all started for me. 

Some of my students were going away during the summer for three whole months, but they also had an important exam coming in the beginning of the school year, so they had to study hard and work with a teacher during their stay abroad. As it was impossible to find a teacher over there, I decided to create an online learning page where they could find texts to read, revise their grammar, and learn new vocabulary. Since I had been working as a content creator for an English language-learning platform at the time, I didn’t find it too hard to look for new resources and create a page on a free website using Moodle and Edmodo in order to help my students. However, with that set-up there was always a problem of how to give feedback and work on the speaking skills. At first, we thought we could call each other – but this would take too long and would also be very expensive. So, why not use Skype? Now we could talk and see each other, and we could use Google documents as a whiteboard. Distance was not a barrier anymore. The whole project went really well, the students worked with great enthusiasm and passed their exam with flying colors. 

Although it was a lot of hard work on my part, I enjoyed creating materials for my own and my students’ use in the process. That experience also gave me a chance to see that teaching at a distance was not that challenging, no matter if you use your own materials or not. 

From then on, whenever my students (mostly university students) had to go to their hometowns to visit their parents or study abroad for a semester, there was no reason for us to cut lessons and lose time: instead, we continued our classes using video call (Skype, Facebook, What’s up – whatever communication app was available). 

That’s how my online teaching journey began…  It is not my main job and I don’t always have online students, and I usually find online students by word of mouth. I have tried to find a job through online schools several times; I sent applications and had interviews. My first application and interview were successful, but the student I was offered to teach lived on the other side of the globe and this, unfortunately, meant a bigger time difference than I could handle. 

Overall, my experience with a lot of online school recruiters so far has been negative. Some of the companies preferred native speakers (with sometimes minimum teaching experience). Others were trying to sell their own online TEFL certificate courses, which was a requirement to have before you’d start your training – with no guarantee that they were going to hire you in the end.  

As a freelancer, you have the freedom to choose your own clients, materials, and working hours, although it can sometimes be a challenge to find students. You might have to spend money to advertise yourself on social media (Facebook or Instagram), maybe create a page with articles and ideas in order to build your audience.   

Technology should not be a barrier though. There are a lot of free and paid programs you can use and a lot of free tutorials on how to use them, for example MoodleEdmodoGoogle DriveWiziqAdobeSkype, and so many others. You can always experiment with different software, ask friends and colleagues to be your guinea pigs in the beginning. In fact, using a variety of online teaching platforms is not as hard as you might think at first. If you work for an online school, they will have their own platforms ready and they will train you before you actually get to teach students. They will also provide you with ready-made materials with instructions, which means you don’t have to prepare much. That said, I would advise to be aware of the time zones and the money, so you don’t end up staying up all night for a minimum wage. 

Teaching online has many other advantages. A big one is that you don’t have to commute to work. When you teach offline, sometimes the school may be far away, or if you are a private tutor like me, you have to go around the city all day, which costs both time and money. If you teach using a computer, however, you can manage your time more efficiently and save money on transport as well. You can work with students from all over the world, nothing limits you anymore. 

So, if you want to try teaching online, why not try it? There are so many online schools you can apply to and learn the ropes. You can also try teaching a lesson online to the students you already have in order to experiment. And then… Who knows what comes next!  

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Theodora Papapanagiotou

Theodora Papapanagiotou is a teacher of EFL and DaF (German as a foreign language) in Greece since 1992. She has worked in various language schools in her hometown, Thessaloniki and with various levels and ages. In the past few years she has been working as a freelance teacher and taking parts in conventions, webinars and online courses, trying to become a better teacher.

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