Managing Student Concerns Related to the Coronavirus

During the last several weeks the severity of the coronavirus has sparked global panic. Citizens of China are taking measures to protect themselves and their families from a potentially deadly virus. As a result, the New Year holiday has been extended and many children won’t be going back to school until the 17th of February. Most will continue to receive their online instruction as usual. The situation in China is an incredibly scary one, and one that we will likely have to navigate in the classroom over the next few weeks. One of my middle school students lost her aunt to the virus. I’ve always been particularly concerned with how potentially traumatic situations can impact young kids. I made it part of my graduate studies in TESOL. I’m not a mental health professional, but hope this article at the very least raises awareness as to how we can approach this issue with our kids.

Creating a Positive Distraction

This is especially important with young kids. This situation is undoubtedly something that parents and relatives will be discussing. It’s likely something the kids are seeing and hearing about on the news. Whenever there is a major catastrophic event, mental health professionals often talk about the importance of getting kids away from the TV and getting them outside to play or do things that kids normally do. For a lot of our students, going outside is not an option. Let’s allow our classrooms to be a positive distraction for 25 or 50 minutes out of their day. If students don’t mention the coronavirus or the precautions that they’re taking, don’t mention it. Carry on as though it was business as usual. 


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Be Extra Understanding

Effective classroom management is such an important part of the learning process. Nowadays, our kids may be a little antsy. One student told me today that she hasn’t been outside in nearly two weeks. As a grown man, if I was in the house for nearly two weeks, I would be going crazy. Imagine an eight-year-old who hasn’t been out of the house for two weeks. If students get off task or you find them interrupting classmates, try to be understanding- especially if you observe this to be abnormal behavior for the child. At the same time, we do need to manage our classrooms effectively. If you have students who are often off-task and exhibiting behavior that is consistent with the norm, don’t be afraid to use the same classroom management techniques that you would normally use to properly deliver your lessons. 

Consider the Timing

This outbreak couldn’t have come at a worse time- the Spring Festival. This is a time when these families really look forward to getting together. Unfortunately, many families may have had to forego their travel plans as a result of quarantine and other precautions surrounding the coronavirus. Some of my students have gone to see relatives and been unable to return to their homes until it is safe to do so. These children may be trying to take their classes in houses that are filled with members of their extended family. They may not be able to sit at a desk in their own room and take their classes as usual. Again, try to be extra understanding of their unique circumstances.

Validate Feelings

Some of the hardest conversations that I’ve had with my students over my fifteen years as a teacher is when they tell me about the loss of a loved one. This may be something that we have to deal with during this time. If you find yourself faced with this, try to be empathetic in every way possible. Also, remember that our kids are really strong young people who manage incredibly demanding schedules. I always make an effort to offer my deepest and most sincere condolences. Then, I do my best to challenge them and deliver the best instruction possible. I’ve found this more to be the case with my older students. Younger students seem lack a complete understanding of the severity of the situation. 

Be Mindful of Age

Building on the last point, remember that if you have very young learners, they likely won’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. Five-year-olds probably just know they have to stay inside so they don’t get sick. I wouldn’t make an effort to explain anything further. They may repeat something they have heard their parents say or something they heard on the news. Research shows that most kids at this age form their opinions based on the what the adults in their lives say. That is, they don’t form their own opinions. Without a background in education, most people are able to figure that out. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t expand on anything they say as it likely will be lost on them. Saying something along the lines of, “I’m glad that you’re staying safe, and I want you to be healthy,” is usually enough. If they try to speak further about it, transition to the subject of the lesson. If you have older students or young adults who you feel are capable of discussing the situation, then use your best judgment. 

Final Thoughts

It’s incredibly unfortunate to see a lot of students that I’ve had for many years feel so afraid about a potentially deadly sickness. As adults, we are capable of understanding that the disease will be contained, and life will eventually return to normal. Kids may lack this perspective. Again, this article is in no way meant to be a ‘mental health how-to guide.’ It’s something that I’ve thought a lot about throughout my lessons today and hope it raises others’ awareness to the issue of teaching the kids who are going through this difficult time. Also, perhaps consider how we can help. I’ve also decided to volunteer a few hours a week at my school until the kids go back on the 17th. I hope to do fun online classes for my students. As opposed to content-based instruction, this would be an opportunity for kids to do more free speaking and play games. I’m hoping this receives some interest from the students and parents as they navigate this difficult situation.  

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Online Doctoral Programs for Teachers

A doctoral degree is a huge undertaking. There is no shortage of options for prospective students to consider. One also needs to keep their professional goals in mind. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to have a PhD or an EdD?” In this article, we’ll touch on some of the concerns associated with an online PhD/EdD and name five of our favorite online doctoral programs.

Why do you want a doctorate?

There are a variety of reasons for someone to earn a doctorate. Some seek a salary bump, career advancement, a love of learning, and simply want the title, “Doctor.” Whatever your reason is, the choice to do a PhD or EdD is a huge one. If your goal is to go teach in a university, you may be better off doing your doctorate in-residence. Brick and mortar programs may offer greater access to students and classes for your research. Being a part of the university community may give you a better opportunity to publish and present your research to the academic community on campus and in your city. You also may gain valuable teaching experience as part of your program. However, many students have found success with an online doctoral degree. The cost can be enough to discourage some students. Listed below are five of our favorite (and most affordable) online doctoral degrees in education. 

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This is one of the most affordable online doctoral programs out there. The EdD in Educational Leadership is 60 credits and requires an MA for admission to the program. The excellent thing about this program is that up to 18 credits can be waived for previous graduate work (in addition to the MA required for admission). The cost per credit hour currently sits at $375, or $22,500 for the 60-credit program. If you are able to get the 18 credits waived for prior graduate work, the tuition falls to less than $16,000. They do not have a specialization in ESOL. However, you can do your dissertation on any topic that you choose. If you want to focus your research on applied linguistics, you can. The only catch is that your research should have a leadership focus.


One unique aspect of this degree is that all classes have a synchronous component. This may be problematic, depending on your time zone. However, there are no campus visits required. My conversations with the faculty and staff here have all been very positive, and I have found them to be very accommodating. 

The University of West Georgia offers an online Doctor of Education in School Improvement, with several choices for a program concentration. The cost of the program varies depending on the number of semester hours a student chooses to take. Students who take a 12-credit semester can expect to pay approximately $4,100. The entire degree consists of 60 credits, 12 of which may be transferred in from previous graduate work. Students who are able to transfer in 12 credits from another university and are able to complete 12 credits per semester (not always possible), can expect to pay as little as $16,400 for the degree.


Students work within a cohort, but all the coursework is completed online. However, students are required to complete a two-day intensive orientation prior to the start of the program. This is held on-campus in Carrolton, Georgia. This orientation is mandatory, and applicants should consider the cost of travel and lodging in their total program cost. 

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ACE is quickly becoming one of the more popular online study options for educators. The reviews are mixed. I have a colleague who completed his MEd with ACE and found the coursework to be rigorous. He did complain about a lack of feedback from some of his professors. However, he also indicated that if you apply yourself, you can get a lot out of the degree. This is an important consideration, as most doctoral students require frequent and detailed feedback from their advisors to complete their research project.


Some huge advantages to ACE are their course offerings, rolling admission, and the ability to finance the degree through monthly payments. Students can choose from a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, or Instructional Technology. Each program consists of 64 credit hours and costs approximately $24,000. However, students may transfer up to 18 credits from another doctoral program. If a student has completed an Education Specialist degree or was all but dissertation (ABD) in another doctoral program, that student may transfer up to 27 credits into the EdD program. This knocks the cost down to approximately $17,700 and $14,500 respectively. 

UNG offers a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Practice. The program is completed in cohort fashion. All cohorts begin in the fall, and it includes an optional on-campus orientation. The 60-credit program is fairly affordable, at approximately $1,000 per 3-credit class. This brings the total program cost to approximately $20,000. UNG does accept transfer credit. However, they are quite strict about finding classes that specifically replace courses in their program. The program can be completed in approximately three years.

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The university offers both an EdD and a PhD in Educational Leadership. This is an incredibly accelerated program which can be completed in roughly two years. In order for students to complete the program in such a short time, an EdS degree is required for admission. The university also considers students who have prior doctoral coursework- such as ABD students. The degree is completed in a cohort format with a two-week on-campus visit required to prepare for the dissertation. New cohorts begin every spring.


The current program cost is $585 per credit with a $95 technology fee due per semester (not per credit). The EdD consists of 36 credits, while the PhD consists of 41 credit hours. This brings the total tuition to approximately $21,000 for the EdD and $24,000 for the PhD (not including the mandatory technology fee mentioned above). While this is a bit pricier (per credit) than some of the other options, it has the advantage of requiring fewer credits and being completed in a shorter time frame. 

Final Thoughts

There are literally a ton of options available for people looking to do their degree online- including at the doctoral level. Many doctoral degrees require some residence component- even if it is only for a few days or weeks. Consider the reasons for getting a PhD/EdD, along with the reputation of the institution you are interested in, as well as the cost. The universities listed above are all American institutions. There are many academically rigorous options available all over the world. Check for in-residence, as well online programs in the location where you live. 


Pros and Cons of the IOA TEFL Certificate

This is sure to be a topic that people have different and strong opinions on. I have seen people comment both ways on this certificate being great and others saying it’s awful. So, I’m going to spend this week breaking down what I see as the pros and cons of the International Open Academy (IOA) aka Groupon TEFL certificate. Be aware- this website contains affiliate links to the IOA certificate, and I also completed the very same certificate to satisfy the Chinese government requirements of a 120-hr TEFL certificate. Still, I’m trying to offer an honest appraisal of what I see as the good and bad points of the certificate. I’ll alternate between the pros and cons of this online qualification. 

+ Cost

This is the obvious advantage. The online certificate can be completed for only $19. This is a steal. With many CELTA courses costing $2,000 or more, this is a fraction of the cost. To be fair, the experience & knowledge gleaned from the IOA program is not going to be in the same universe as what you’ll learn in a CELTA. Many other online TEFL certificates may be more rigorous. However, they usually cost over $100 (and some much more than this). IOA is available at a fraction of the cost. 

- Rigorous Academic Nature of the Program

The IOA certificate is a 120-hr certificate. However, if you really require the full 120 hours to complete this certificate, I would be totally shocked. I clicked through the program and took the tests and scored 88% across all the modules. I spent less than 90 minutes to complete the entire certificate. To be fair, I had just completed the Florida state exam for ESOL certification, so I was familiar with most of the material in the course. If I had not recently studied all of this, it would have taken me significantly longer. Having said that, I can’t see the qualification taking anywhere near 120 hours to complete. If you’re putting less time in, you can expect to be getting less out of the program.

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+ Low Risk

There is so much uncertainty in the online ESOL teaching environment. I’m very fortunate to be with a great company for many years and have all my time slots booked. However, many teachers are not so lucky. This is especially true of new hires. Tons of prospective teachers are asking questions like, “Will this company book for me? How many hours will I be guaranteed? How long does it take to get to full-time hours?” The answers really vary depending on the teacher and the school. Many teachers are reluctant to make a significant investment in their own training if they’re not going to be able to secure a decent income (or perhaps any income at all). At $19, the IOA represents a low risk route to get in the door at most companies. 

- Assessment

In my opinion, this represents the biggest opportunity for the certificate to improve. You only need to score 55% to pass. This is exceptionally low. Also, the nature and scope of the test questions make it incredibly easy to pass. As a result, many teachers complete the program without a lot of the experience and knowledge that they should have before being in a classroom. Even at the university level, people often say that you can judge the quality of a degree by the quality of its graduates. If people are able to get through the program without any knowledge of language teaching, the reputation of the certificate is going to continue to suffer. 

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+ Opportunity for Self-Directed Learning

Learner autonomy is a huge part of online learning. Learners need to be self-directed. If students choose to learn only what they are assessed on, they won’t get much out of this certificate. However, there is some very useful material in the program- but students are going to have to make an effort to learn, apply, and extend this on their own. Application of what is learned in the program is going to be especially difficult since there is no observed teaching practice. Having said that, if prospective teachers want to get the most they can out of this program, there is some very useful material in the course. 

- Interactivity / Tutors

This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the course. I did an online TEFL certificate with Bridge TEFL that was fairly rigorous and included an online tutor as a form of support. This is absent in the IOA program. It is entirely self-directed reading and online assessment. Having said that, Bridge is a costlier option. When you are entirely new to the field of ESOL, having a tutor or mentor to help you make sense of things is huge. There are other online certificate programs, such as Promise Opens Doors, that offer this type of support and even teaching practice. 

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+ Deductibility

The IOA certificate is very much a program that helps teachers get in on the ground floor. If you read the blog last week about deductibility of business expenses, then you know that an initial qualification necessary to do a job is NOT deductible. So, if you do your IOA certificate, you are unable to deduct that $19 from your taxes. However, as a self-employed US taxpayer, you ARE able to deduct training or qualifications that help you to keep your job or do your job better. So, if you decide, after using your IOA certificate to get a job with a company, that you’d like to get a CELTA to expand your skill set, that certificate may be deductible. If you spend $2,000 on your CELTA and are in the 20% tax bracket, that saves you $400! If you did the CELTA first (as your initial qualification), then you would not be able to deduct this expense. 

Reputation / Professional Growth

There are a lot of people who come down on the IOA qualification, for many of the reasons mentioned above. If you’re serious about teaching as a career, you definitely should look beyond this initial qualification. If this is your only qualification, you may find it difficult to advance your career- even if you put in a lot of extra effort to get everything you could out of the certificate. To be fair, this short online course is not a substitute for a university qualification in TESOL- and it isn’t designed to be. It’s an initial qualification to get teachers in the door and give them some background on teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students. If you are certain that TESOL is going to be a career path, then look toward MA TESOL programs that can really catapult your career and expand your professional knowledge. 

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Formative Assessment Tools for Online Instruction

Formative assessment, also known as informal assessment, is a tool to help drive instruction. It can take many different forms and should be the most frequently used form of assessment in most teachers’ classrooms- including virtual classrooms.

What is formative assessment?

Formative assessment is a tool to gauge students’ learning. It helps teachers understand if students are ‘getting it.’ Do students need additional instruction in a particular area? Where do teachers need to improve? Seeing where students may be struggling is a tool that teachers use to help them understand how to adjust (or in some cases revamp) their lessons to promote student achievement. While summative assessments, which are typically end of unit tests that measure student achievement, tend to be more formal and result in a grade for student learning, formative assessment can be very simple.

Varieties of Formative Assessment for the Online Classroom

Anecdotal Notes

Anecdotal notes based on classroom observation is probably the most common form of formative assessment in a brick and mortar (B&M) classroom. The utility of this type of assessment extends to the online classroom, too. This can include taking notes on skills & strategies that students are struggling with, frequent grammatical errors, as well as points of exceptional student performance.

In order for anecdotal notes to be a useful tool of formative assessment, they need to be well-organized. Leaving a pad full of post-it notes next to your computer isn’t going to cut it. Teachers need the ability to look back on well-organized information, recognize patterns, see student growth, and develop a plan based on that. When I was teaching in the classroom, I used accordion folders for all my students. It allowed me to add dated anecdotal notes (in chronological order) along with samples of student work. Creating a Word doc for each of your students that you update immediately after each class is a great option. It’s important to update the notes as soon as possible so all the information is fresh in your mind. You can also paste in samples of student work to support the notes that you take.

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3-2-1 Exit Cards

I absolutely LOVE 3-2-1 Exit Cards in the classroom. This can take the form of a post-it note or an index card that students complete prior to exiting the classroom. Teachers can also share a link with students to complete an online exit card. A 3-2-1 Exit Card contains:

Three things I learned today are:

Two things I found interesting are:

One question I still have is:

This can result in incredibly rich data for teachers to use when planning instruction or creating supplemental material for their online classes. You get to see what’s working well, what students are interested in, and where students may need additional support. I am personally fond of adapting this for the online classroom- particularly for young learners. I would simplify it to two things that I either learned or found interesting, and one question that I still have.

Running records help to ensure that a child is reading on the appropriate level.

Running Records

There are advantages and disadvantages to using running records. However, they can be incredibly useful for measuring a student’s reading ability and helping to discern whether they are reading texts that are on their level. As a teacher, this helps you to understand how much support you need to provide throughout the lesson. Scholastic has a fantastic guide that introduces teachers to taking running records.

For those of us teaching in Chinese schools, one major challenge to utilizing running records is that parents may be resistant to students reading aloud. They may view this as an inappropriate use of class time. It’s always important to respect the parents’ wishes. However, if you can work with parents to get them to see the value in occasionally using this type of assessment, it can be a tremendous benefit to the child. Another challenge with running records is that they can be difficult for teachers to take. Like anything, it takes time to become comfortable with it. If possible, listen to recordings and develop your skills taking running records. You’ll be surprised how fast it becomes second nature.

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Three Questions/Three Things

This is a great way to gauge possible misunderstandings by having students create a list of three questions that other students may have or three things another student may misunderstand about the topic. While it’s always important to help students understand that it’s OK to admit that they don’t get it, many students may be reluctant to admit that they’re having trouble learning. Three Questions is a great way to allow students bring possible areas of confusion to the attention of the teacher without students having to admit that they don’t understand. This can be done during or after class.

Using Technology

There are a lot of terrific apps out there that can help teachers administer formative assessment. Flubaroo is a great add-on for google sheets. It not only helps you to see students who are struggling, but allows you to identify topics that the class as a whole struggled with. This data can really help you identify areas where you need to reteach. Socrative and Kahoot are also fun quizzes that students can take on their smartphones. One feature I dislike about Kahoot is that students receive points and a ranking, which promotes competition and gives it the feel of a summative assessment, as opposed to one that simply promotes learning. On the plus side, in many cultures where competition is the norm, this may be something that motivates students. While these computer-based assessments are incredibly easy to administer and the data is organized for you almost instantly, it is not the richest form of data. Multiple choice and true false questions are easily impacted by guessing. Further, as with all types of technology in the classroom, teachers need to ensure that students have equitable access.

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Final Thoughts

With virtual classrooms are becoming more and more commonplace, teachers need to begin to transfer and adapt best practices in the B&M classroom to the online classroom- this includes assessment. Formative assessment should be used by teachers to drive the planning and revision of instruction for their students. While this is particularly valuable for teachers who see their students over an extended period, it still has value for teachers who see their kids only sporadically. Formatively assessing students allows teachers to understand when a concept needs to be retaught. It allows these teachers to adjust lesson delivery on the fly based on students’ needs. However you choose to administer it, consider adding formative assessment techniques to your classroom.

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Completing a US Teaching License While Working at Whales English

Welcome back to ESL Gypsy! In the past, I’ve outlined the steps to take for completing a Florida state teaching license while working online. The challenge to this process is being able to complete your field experience, which must total 150 hours (including a one-week culminating experience). I’ve recently completed the coursework and field experience for my license while teaching at Whales English. This week, I’m going to walk you through the details of the process. For those who missed the last posting on this, I’ll be briefly review the Teacher Ready program before explaining the culminating week.


The Teacher Ready program leads to a five-year renewable professional certificate from the state of Florida.

The Program

I completed my teacher preparation program with Teacher Ready at the University of West Florida. The program itself consists of eight independent study modules. Each one is designed to be completed within a month. In reality, they can be completed more quickly than that. The work was rigorous and required reading and reviewing the material provided. Each module costs $600 USD (for a total program cost of $4,800). There is also a $200 registration fee. However, when I applied there was a promotion which allowed them to waive the fee for me.

The Fieldwork

The program requires 150 hours of fieldwork spread out over the eight modules. If you are not teaching in the classroom, you need to complete your fieldwork in a mentor’s classroom. This requires keeping a detailed journal of your 150 hours. I was able to complete my fieldwork in my own online classroom. To satisfy the 150-hour requirement, I simply needed to complete a form which also provided the contact details for my school, Whales English, and submit it to Teacher Ready.


Field experience is a required part of the TR program.

The Culminating Week

As part of your field experience, you must complete one week (five lessons) of independent teaching experience. In a brick and mortar institution, you would be required to teach in your mentor’s classroom or be observed teaching in your own classroom. Ideally, the Teacher Ready program prefers you to get a mentor from your school. The mentor must be a US licensed teacher with a Master’s in Education. I was unable to find someone at my school who could serve as my mentor. However, Teacher Ready was kind enough to provide an incredibly knowledgeable mentor who worked with me through the whole process.

            Benchmark Assessment

Prior to teaching your five days of culminating week, you need to complete a benchmark assessment with your mentor. This is a classroom observation of you teaching a lesson that you’ve planned. Ideally, this should be completed during module 4. Since I was unsure of how and where I’d be doing my field experience, this was delayed until I was ready to begin my culminating week. This observation requires you to video tape one of your lessons and submit it to your mentor for review. Prior to completing this, you must receive signed permission from the school. My school also requested that the students’ faces be hidden. You can pixelate their faces, or you can crop them out. I chose to use Movavi video editing software to crop out the students’ faces. After you pass your benchmark assessment, you can begin planning your culminating week.


Teacher candidates are required to plan five days of instruction for their culminating week.

            Lesson Plans

Your culminating week will consist of five days of teaching. Since we see our students once per week at Whales English, my field experience was spread out over five weeks. Prior to teaching your lessons, you need to submit five days of lesson plans that are based on the Common Core Standards. This is where working at Whales was a huge advantage. Our classic English courses are all based on the US Common Core, so this made my lesson planning much easier. The lesson plans should have:

  • A Common Core Standard
  • 30-Day Learning Goal
  • 30-Day Summative Assessment
  • A Weekly Learning Target
  • Daily Learning Targets
  • Daily Learning Tasks
  • Daily Formative Assessment
  • Summative Assessment for the Week
  • A Pre & Post Test

            Completing the Teaching

As you teach each lesson, you will be required to submit a daily reflection. I first sent my mentor this reflection via email. She gave her feedback and I added that into a final daily reflection that I submitted for grading. Your daily reflection should include elements of the lesson that you will adapt for future lessons based on your formative assessments. Your mentor does not watch your daily lessons.

At the end of the five days, you will submit one video taped lesson of your choosing for your mentor to evaluate. This must adhere to the same guidelines outlined above (students’ faces must not be shown). After you pass this evaluation, you need to complete a final reflection on the program which is in essay format. This will require you to mention three things that you will bring with you from the program into your first year as a licensed teacher. You are also asked to submit a document reflecting on the pre and post test data that you gathered.


After getting your teaching certificate, remember to keep it current by completing your continuing education requirements!

            Final Steps

After you finish the culminating week, you only need to complete the Florida state testing. This consists of three exams- the General Knowledge test, the Professional Education test, and the Subject Area exam. Please note: There are fees attached to each one of these exams that are NOT INCLUDED in the Teacher Ready program. The Florida Department of Education allows an exemption for the General Knowledge test under certain circumstances, such achieving a certain score on a recent GRE exam. Check their website for more details. After completing your exams, you need to be fingerprinted and then the Florida DOE will issue your Five-Year Renewable Professional Teaching Certificate.

Important Notes

I am completing my certificate in K-12 ESOL. This allowed me to do my field experience with Whales English. I have a friend who is completing his certificate in secondary math, and he will need to do his field experience outside the ESOL classroom. Check with Teacher Ready and/or the FL DOE to ensure that the certificate you are after can be completed in your online classroom.

The certificate you are issued is renewable. This requires you to complete a certain number of continuing education credits every five years to keep your certificate current. Check with the FL DOE to stay up to date on current requirements.


What would you look for in a company if money didn’t matter?

Welcome back to ESL Gypsy. There’s been a ton of content on what people look for in a company and how to select the right company to work for. Most of what has been written centers on the bottom line- the rate of pay and bookings. “Obviously! I gotta make money!” Totally understandable. Everyone has to pay the bills. However, this article aims to examine what we might look for in a job if money didn’t matter.

In their recent Facebook post, Jake and Sarah from TeoLeo brought up the subject of goals. Most people cite financial freedom as a long-term goal. As a big believer in FIRE, and someone who has recently hit some major FIRE milestones, I’ve begun to think about what I’d look for as a teacher who was less concerned with the bottom line and more interested in what else the job can bring me.

Now, you might be saying, “I would be looking for an apartment in Thailand and one of those little umbrella drinks.” Totally understandable. For some people, teaching is just a means to an end. I get that. This article is aimed at people who would continue to teach even if they achieved financial freedom. Listed below are some things I would look for in a potential company.

Focus of the Curriculum

Some people love the idea of teaching purely conversation classes. They’re fun! You get a chance to really get to know your students and watch their language skills develop. Currently, I’m teaching English language arts classes that are aligned with the American Common Core curriculum. Most of my classes focus on literacy skills and reading comprehension. For me this type of curriculum is a lot of fun to teach. If money didn’t matter, what would you choose to teach students? The list of options to consider is practically endless:


Business English

Academic Writing

Creative Writing

Conversational English

Phonics/Emergent Reading Skills

English Language Arts/Reading

Flexibility of Curriculum

I happen to be lucky and work for a company that has a pretty good curriculum laid out. However, some companies leave a lot to be desired in this area. Regardless of how good any curriculum is, experienced teachers know that a one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum never works. Curriculum needs to be adapted to individual student needs, and the very nature of lesson planning is recursive. If your financial situation allows you to get by just teaching a few classes, then you likely have the time to adapt the curriculum to meet the students’ needs… if your company permits you to. Some companies may be very rigid about what they expect their teachers to do. This can create real frustration for teachers that want to do what’s best for their students.


Teaching a curriculum you enjoy can make all the difference!


At the end of the day, this is what it’s all about for me. I left a well-paid job in accounting to move into a (eh… less well-paid) job in education. For me, the motivation to get involved in education was the opportunity to work with the students. If money were no object, what type of students would you be happiest teaching? Currently, the market for teaching young learners is huge. I enjoy teaching young learners, but I also love teaching young adults. I feel like I did my best work as a teacher working with university level students. Would working with an uptight, stressed out businessman drive you mad? Would you prefer to teach a young and emerging reader? Consider your options and work with the students that bring you the most satisfaction.

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Bookings are a real concern for people who need to pay the bills- understandably so. Having a solid schedule that you can rely on every week means that there is always money coming in. If you are financially independent, you can aim for a little more flexibility. Personally, I would love the spontaneity of being able to pick up and take off when I want to. For this to be a reality, I would need a schedule that can be changed from week to week. The potential to cancel bookings on short notice might also be something I’d look for. Some people I know who’ve retired early love having a very definitive schedule. They do a few hours a week at a job they enjoy, and the rest of the week follows a predictable routine. Look for what best suits your goals as you achieve financial freedom.


Find a school where you have opportunities to contribute to its growth.

Opportunities to Contribute

This is huge. When you are on the road to FIRE, you need to look to save as much as possible to reach your financial goals. Finding additional sources of income within your company is a great way to help you get there. However, a lot of this work can become very demanding- especially if you’ve got your hands in a lot of different projects. The last thing you want to do when you are financially free is to engage in work that is going to stress you out. Find something you’re good at and focus on that area. For me, I love writing curriculum and creating materials. I would look for some way to contribute to my current company in this capacity. If you like building things from the ground up, maybe working with a new start-up would suit you well. As someone who had a chance to do that, I can say that it’s a lot of fun! You really have a chance to make a meaningful impact. When you’re doing that sort of work, it makes the amount of money that you’re taking home less significant.

Final Thoughts

If you’re financially independent- or at the very least secure, then start to look for jobs that can bring you more of what you enjoy about education. Teaching is a great profession. Even if you have the money not to work at all, teaching is something that can still bring you so much value outside of a paycheck. Consider a school with limited hours or a flexible schedule. Find what your niche is and focus on that. If you’re not financially independent yet, start to set goals and work towards them. Being an online teacher in a LCOL country gives you the chance to FIRE before most people back home. When you do FIRE, find a job that allows you to love everything about being in the online classroom.


Using Graphic Organizers to Boost Reading Comprehension

Graphic Organizers are a great way to support young readers!

Many companies are now offering courses in reading, as well as language arts and ESOL courses that center on students interacting with a particular text in English. Students often read the text (either before or during class) and engage in dialogue and reflection with their teachers and classmates. There are a lot of challenges to building comprehension skills with young readers, and often those challenges are amplified when dealing with culturally and linguistically diverse students. Building decoding strategies is an important part of ‘learning to read,’ but ultimately, we need to move young learners toward making meaning from the text- or ‘reading to learn.’ This will enable them to have those great interactive discussions that get them using language (including academic language) in an authentic context. To do this, good readers use a variety of strategies as they are interacting with a text. The skills and strategies that we teach young learners help them along the way.

As good readers, we do certain things automatically. We plan. We predict. We infer. We compare and contrast. We evaluate. We do these things without thinking because we’ve developed these skills over a lifetime. Young learners often need support in developing these same skills. Graphic organizers are a terrific way to help our kids construct meaning. There are literally tons of ways that we can apply graphic organizers to improve students’ ability to access the text. Listed below are some approaches to building students’ reading comprehension skills through the use of graphic organizers and how we can support them in their journey to becoming great readers. All the graphic organizers mentioned in this article are available for free download at

KWL Charts

We can get our students interacting with the text before they’ve even read it. How many of you are already thinking about what this book might be like just by looking at the title? What do you think it may be about? What do you wonder about it just by looking at the cover? These are great questions that we can ask our students as soon as they see the text. Using KWL charts to get students thinking about what they know can be a great way to get them to activate background knowledge. While KWL charts are great for nonfiction, they can also be used with fictional stories. As we move through the text and develop new questions, we can update our KWL charts with our students.

OK, we learned _____, but now I want to know _______.

These are terrific GOs to use before reading, but they also support kids as they grow with the text. Another variation of this which is particularly useful for expository text is the KWLQH chart. After completing a KWL chart, students may still have questions. They can create these in ‘Q’ column and then work together as a class to find out how they will answer them- the ‘H’ column.

Anticipation Guides


Anticipation Guides are a really cool way to get kids thinking about the text before they’ve read. Instead of finishing up the last five minutes of class with a game of Hangman, we can use this time to preview the text that kids will be learning about the following week. An anticipation guide contains a series of statements about the text the students will read. Students select whether they agree or disagree with each of the statements. Completing this as a group allows the teacher to ask great probing questions to find out why our kids feel this way. After reading the text, we can revisit this graphic organizer and determine if we were correct or not.


Cornell Notetaking Guide


Another great graphic organizer that students can use while reading is the Cornell Note Taking Guide. I particularly love using this graphic organizer when dealing with genres of literature that are written to inform or educate the audience (such as expository text and narrative nonfiction). This is great because students can do this at home as they read independently. Modeling in class and getting kids to apply it independently at home can be a great way to support struggling readers. This graphic organizer asks students to identify the page number, section heading (if applicable), the key details, and what students think the main idea of the text is. It’s often a great way for kids to see how the text features of expository text help us to better understand what we are reading (such as the connection between headings and main idea).

Character Traits


I love using graphic organizers for character traits with my young readers. This is particularly fun when we are reading fictional stories, but also terrific when reading certain types of narrative nonfiction (such as biographies). In order for good readers to make inferences and predictions, or even to understand the theme or message of the story, it is often necessary to understand a character’s personality or character traits. While it’s important to get students to use descriptive words (beyond ‘nice’ or ‘happy’), it is even more important for students to be able to support their assertion with text evidence. I love using a character traits graphic organizer that asks students to go back to the text, cite something the character did or said (and reference the page # on the organizer). For lower level students who struggle with descriptive words, I often include a list of character traits side by side with this graphic organizer. *NOTE: While I break them down into positive and negative character traits, this may be an opportunity to get kids to understand that certain traits that are considered positive in some cultures may be negative in others (e.g.- competitive or proud).


Learning Ladder


I’ve written before about the benefit of building higher-order thinking skills into our lessons. Getting kids to develop critical thinking skills is important and it’s a terrific way to get them to negotiate meaning in the target language (as opposed to repeating a line in the text). Having said that, it can be a real challenge for culturally and linguistically diverse young learners. A proper sequence of questioning can really help in supporting them through this process. Using a learning ladder is a great way to do this. We explicitly build our questioning from lower levels of cognitive functioning to higher ones. This can also be used in conjunction with other graphic organizers. For example, when we are asking students to analyze a character, we can use our character traits organizer. When students struggle, we can ensure that we go back down, build them back up, and give them what they need to continue to climb the ladder. For more on the effectiveness of the learning ladder and how to use it in conjunction with Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, check out Janet Pilcher’s book, Who’s Engaged.

WHALES ENGLISH is hiring. Must be a Native English speaker from USA, CANADA, UK, IRELAND, AUSTRALIA, or NEW ZEALAND Bachelor’s degree plus one-year teaching experience

Final Thoughts


Graphic organizers are a great tool to support students reading comprehension. They often force us, as teachers, to really focus on explicit instruction. This is so important because the things we do automatically as good readers are often not so automatic to young learners. We need to provide direct instruction to get them moving in the right direction. G.O.s help walk students through the process step-by-step. In this way, they are a terrific scaffold! There are five graphic organizers listed here, but you can visit for other great graphic organizers to use in your class. Happy teaching!!!


Four Strategies for Building Fluency With Young Readers

Lack of fluency can interfere with students' ability to make meaning from a text.

Welcome back to ESL Gypsy! This week we’re bringing you some tips on how to turn your young learners into more fluent readers. It’s so important for all young readers to develop fluency. It’s particularly important when students are learning through a blended model (such as those used by many online schools). A blended model involves students supplementing their in-class instruction by preparing materials prior to class (such as watching a preview video, lecture, and completing the reading before class). A lack of fluency can interfere with a student’s ability to make meaning from the text. This can make all the hard work students do before class less effective. Developing fluent readers helps to make them more efficient learners (by making the best use of their time).

Unfortunately, one of the best ways to develop students’ fluency is to do repeated readings in class. Of course, this creates a conflict where many online learning formats are concerned. Some students enjoy reading in class, and some parents don’t mind this approach either. However, most parents consider extensive readings to be a waste of class time. To be sure, with limited time to accomplish lesson objectives- many of which deal with vocabulary, a story’s genre, or more detailed skills and strategies to help students access the text and develop critical thinking skills- time for reading aloud is limited. Below, we are going to list four approaches that fit the online reading and language arts lesson formats of many schools and can be used to help develop students’ fluency.


Phrased Reading


This is an effective strategy with particularly young readers who are still developing their decoding skills. As opposed to students reading an entire passage from the text, this focuses on students reading short phrases. It is particularly useful when students struggle reading word by word. This can easily be integrated into the lesson’s warmer as teachers build background related to the topic. It takes no time away from the lesson opening, which should be focused on activating background knowledge, but still gives students a chance to practice their fluency skills.


Another great way to integrate this into lessons is through analysis of quotes from the text. Analyzing quotes is a great way to develop higher order thinking skills. Taking just a moment to have students read these quotes doesn’t distract from a focus on critical thinking, yet still promotes fluency.

Fluent readers exhibit expression and emotion when they read!

Reader’s Theater


Anyone who’s taught in a classroom knows how fun reader’s theater can be! Students absolutely love it and it gives them the opportunity to actively engage with a text. While this is a great way to get very young readers (Pre-K to Grade 2) to build there decoding skills, it is actually something that can be quite beneficial to students in higher grades. We often think of fluency as being related to a student’s rate of speech, which is true. However, fluency is much more than that. Fluent readers are able to read expressively- with proper intonation and stress. Reader’s theater can be a great way for kids to accomplish this. Not only does reader’s theater give students the chance to read expressively, it can be used as a springboard for other literacy skills- such as character development. Reading with expression and emotion that mirrors the character can help students understand the character’s feelings, traits, and how they have changed throughout the text. This can also be used to move toward more critical thinking skills.


Reader’s theater doesn’t need to be long! Getting the students to read a short exchange from one part of the text is often sufficient. Teachers can get involved too! This is a great way to model what fluent, expressive reading sounds like. Motivated students can build on this by watching recordings of the class (when available) and evaluating their own fluency. This is often a boost for young language learners to see that they are indeed capable and fluent readers.

Building Fluency into Reading Strategies


Many reading and language arts classes ask students to apply strategies to help them when they struggle to make meaning. Two that work well with fluency are rereading and asking & answering questions. If a student struggles with comprehension questions related to the text, getting them to go back and read ‘a chunk’ of the text is a great way to help them understand that good readers go back and reread when they don’t understand something. It is also a terrific way to promote reading fluency. Asking and answering questions helps students see that good readers read for key details in a text. It also helps them see the importance of setting a purpose for reading. You may model this strategy by telling students, “When I look at this section, I want to know _____. So, I am going to ask the question _____. Now, let’s read this section and remember, we are looking for details to help us answer the question _____.” The section that students read can be short. It is a great way to help them apply an important strategy and develop their fluency skills.

Taking it Home


Most teachers give some type of feedback to their students. This may be once a month, after every lesson, or as your school mandates. Use this opportunity to suggest activities to help students develop their reading fluency. When I was teaching at a university, we used timed read alouds with our young adults. We gave them a passage to read within a certain amount of time. Students were required to read the passage several times at a progressively faster rate. Students recorded the time it took to read each passage. It’s important to remind students that reading quickly is not reading fluently. We want them to improve their rate of speech- particularly if they are reading word by word, but we also want them to read with expression and emotion. Assigning some short comprehension questions related to how the narrator or character(s) may be feeling is a great way to help develop this skill.


Final Thoughts


It’s difficult to overstate the importance of developing fluent readers. While extensive reading in class is a great way to develop fluency, it is not always possible given the time constraints. Applying the tips above may be an effective approach you wish to try in your own classes. Remember that modelling what fluent reading sounds like is also a great way to help students build their fluency skills! Happy reading!

Earn your 120-Hour TEFL from International Open Academy for only $19! Click image to apply!


The Case for Non-Native English Speakers

Welcome back to ESL Gypsy! We were in the middle of a nomadic move last week that brought a new home in a new corner of the world! This week, we’re back at the keyboard to bring you another blog post. This week’s blog was inspired by a great deal of interest that I’ve received from non-native English speakers (NNES) who have been turned away for many jobs despite excellent qualifications, strong experience, and a neutral accent. This week, we’re going to outline some of the benefits to learning English with NNES, and explore roadblocks that many NNES face in this industry.


NOTE: Blanket statements about any demographic should never be taken to be representative of everyone in that group- in this case all NNES. This article is aimed at raising awareness related to the potential benefits of studying with NNES. These pros and cons will, of course, not be true for every person, as all individuals bring unique qualifications and experience to their teaching position.

The Pros of Learning English with a NNES



Learning a language is difficult! There’s a reason that many TEFL courses require students to sit in a room with an instructor who teaches the entire lesson in a language unknown to them. This is aimed at getting prospective teachers to walk a mile in their students’ shoes before they get in front of a class. In many cases, NNES have already dealt with the challenges associated with learning a language as difficult as English, which allows them to be more empathetic with their learners. This often results in a better rapport with the students. Lowering a student’s affective filter (making them feel more comfortable in the classroom) can speed the language acquisition process.


Knowledge of the L1


There is a great deal of debate about the use of the L1 in the English language classroom. Teachers who teach English classes entirely in the L1 do their students a disservice- particularly when it comes to the students’ speaking abilities. However, the L1 can serve as a valuable scaffold in many lessons. For example, metalanguage that is written in the L1 can help students access knowledge associated with the target language in a way that they couldn’t if it were written or spoken in English (where students may be unable to negotiate the meaning).


Many NNES have superior knowledge of English grammar.

Knowledge of Syntax


Krashen’s Learner-Acquisition hypothesis proposes that young children acquire a language, while adults learn it. Many native English speakers (NES) are not themselves grammarians and lack the knowledge to explain the structure of the English language to a student. Having acquired the language, they likely didn’t learn the syntactic rules of the English language. Further, many NES come from a non-teaching background and have completed TEFL courses that lack detailed study of syntax. Often times, NNES have had to complete detailed study of all aspects of English grammar, giving them a superior ability to explain the structure of the language to their students.


Effective Language Learning Strategies


Much like the previous point, NNES have undergone the process of learning the English language themselves and have unique tips, strategies, and study methods that NES could never have. As teachers, these NNES are in a position to pass this knowledge on to their students, aiding them in their language studies.

Higher Standards


NES enjoy many benefits in the job market today- perhaps none more than the passport that they carry. Many times, even being a NES from an inner-circle (norm developing) country is not enough to gain employment. Many NES are turned away from jobs because of their race. Even at institutions of higher learning, NNES often face difficulty in practicum placement (Mahboob, 2010) because of perceptions surrounding their fluency and knowledge of sociolinguistics. It stands to reason that those students who do make it through these programs tend to be exceptional educators as they’ve been held to a higher standard than their NES peers.


Word Englishes Perspective


Many students today are learning English not to immigrate to a native English-speaking country (inner-circle country), but rather to use it an a tool of international communication. Many English language students will be using the target language in authentic situations with NNES. With this in mind, it clearly seems advantageous for these students to be studying with NNES- with whom they will be interacting.


Roadblocks for NNES


If there are so many distinct advantages to learning English with a NNES, why do so many struggle to find employment?



Many parents are of the belief that learning with a NES will aid their child’s development. I saw this first-hand during my time in Korea. Many well-qualified NNES are passed over in favor NES with no teaching experience or qualifications. What specific concerns may they have?




When learning the English language, many students incorrectly apply aspects of their L1 to their new language (negative transfer). This can manifest itself in many linguistic domains- including phonetics. As this pronunciation becomes fossilized, an interlanguage results. This may differ from standard English. This results in what many people commonly refer to as ‘foreign accents.’ Critical cultural perspectives aside, this of great importance to the parents of students studying the English language. When the distance between the interlanguage and standard English is so great that it impacts meaning, the parents’ concern becomes valid. However, many NNES speak with an entirely neutral accent.




In my opinion, this is particularly relevant where writing instruction is concerned. Language and culture are inextricably linked- there is a debate to how deeply they are linked, but this link remains. Depending on the cultural distance between NNES’ home culture and that of norm-developing English language speaking countries (e.g.- USA), differences in rhetoric may exist. When there exists a great cultural distance- for example, America and Korea- the differences in rhetorical structures in English writing are likely to also be greater. English academic writing tends to be more direct, with a clear argument. NNES from Korea have exhibited a less direct approach to their writing, which allows the reader to infer meaning from the passage. Hinds did similar research with the Japanese language, which he termed listener responsible, as opposed to English which is speaker responsible- showing that culture can impact spoken language as well (particularly where pragmatics are concerned). However, many NNES come from cultures that don’t have such a wide cultural distance and many have been immersed in the cultures of inner-circle countries during their studies. Further, most classes don’t imitate an authentic situation in which the language would be used- thereby making these differences less relevant.


Final Thoughts


This article in no way proposes that any NNES is capable of teaching the English language. There are under-qualified, inexperienced NNES- just the same as there are NES who fit this description. It also in no way aims to take away from those well-qualified, passionate NES teachers with excellent work experience. This posting is purely aimed at raising awareness of the potential that an often overlooked demographic has in this field.

For NNES who are looking for work, check Yeko, 51Talk, Preply, Jixin, and Huijiang. Many of these companies can be found at


Acing the Mock Class with Whales English

Being well-prepared can help make your interview and demo class go as smoothly as possible!

Welcome back to ESL Gypsy! This week’s blog is aimed at getting you through your mock class with Whales English. There are a ton of companies hiring at the moment and Whales happens to be one of them. Like many other companies, applicants are required to pass an interview which includes a short mock class. These mock classes cause a lot of nerves for prospective teachers and can be made worse if you don’t know what to expect during the process. This week’s blog will help get you prepared for your interview and lesson, so you can begin teaching as soon as possible.


What to Expect During the Hiring Process


If you’ve passed the initial screening and been invited for an interview, you will receive a materials packet in PDF format that you will use for the demo lesson. It’s usually quite brief- about six or seven slides and focused on young learners. You may get an invitation to a webinar. These are always beneficial for new applicants, and you should get some great tips for your mock class. The materials should ask you to do four things in your class.





We’re going to take a moment to walk you through each of these things based on the advice of some teachers who’ve just completed their interviews with Whales.


State Your Learning Goal


Whales teaches a curriculum that is aligned with the American Common Core standards. As a result, there is a great deal of emphasis on teaching to a big idea. Essential questions within lessons should move students toward a more complete understanding of the big idea. This is certainly true of the Whales Classic English Courses. Your sample materials will likely include an essential question that students need to answer based on reading a particular text. You may choose to include another language objective. For example, to use the action words jump, hop, and swim to describe how their bodies move. Phrase your learning goals in terms of what students will be able to do.


SWBAT* use the action words jump, hop, and swim to describe how their bodies move.

*SWBAT = Students will be able to…


Elaborate on the Procedures and Required Strategy you have Designed to Teach the Lesson


Here, you’re going to want to indicate that you understand students may be lower level and may not be able to understand everything you say (and how you will create comprehensible input for these students). You may choose to indicate that you plan to use TPR*/physical prompts to indicate to students when you want them to listen to you speaking (point to your chin) and when you want them to speak (cup your ear as pictured below). You may also employ this strategy where error correction is concerned. You can correct students’ structure/pronunciation by slowly saying, “Listen to your teacher say this sentence…” Then, “Now you (as you extend your hand, palm facing upward) repeat… (cupping your ear).” You will also ask students to ‘show’ you the meaning of words: “Show me what swim looks like.” (*NOTE: TPR is actually centered on getting students to follow commands, whereas the previous approach is more consistent with physical prompts).

While not consistent with true TPR, physical prompts are very important for young learners and most companies want to see you use them.

Introduce Extra Skills or Supplemental Materials


This is an opportunity for you to show initiative by preparing some additional, level appropriate material to engage your students. Remember that you only have approximately ten minutes for your lesson, so you don’t want to go overboard, but show that you’ve prepared something. It can be a short, engaging video, a slide with some great visuals, or realia related to the lesson topic. Just remember, the lesson is only ten minutes, so if you do show a video, keep it VERY brief. If you show a three-minute video, that is 30% of your mock class.


Present Your Lesson


Now it’s your time to shine! You can start on the intro slide by introducing the lesson topic and the objectives (from point #1). Ensuring you are teaching an objective focused lesson is an important part of working at Whales.


Some tips for lesson delivery:


Elicit information from the students whenever possible. What do you see in the picture? You can use Zoom functions to help you point to the aspects of the illustrations that you wish to highlight.


Be aware that the Whales staff will be serving as your students for your mock class. They may challenge you by only giving one-word answers (as many young learners may do). This is your opportunity to show how you would deal with this issue in class. Be sure to model complete sentences for lower level students. You may also choose to use sentence stems as a scaffold to support lower level learners. For example, you may ask students, “What can you use your arms to do?” Then, use Zoom to write: I can use my arms to __________.


If the kids get speaking, you can ask one to read a question to the other student. “Can you read this question to Billy?” Student reads, “Can you hop?” Billy should answer. You can provide a sentence stem if Billy gets stuck. This is a great way to encourage level-appropriate peer to peer interaction. Peer to peer learning is also an important component of working at Whales.


At the end of the lesson, return to the essential question: Today, we learned about how our bodies move. Who can tell me three ways that our bodies can move? We can __________. HOP! JUMP! SWIM!


You can extend it too- “Are there any other ways that our bodies can move?”


Let’s Review

  • State Your Lesson Objective

  • Elicit when possible

  • Model when necessary

  • Support/Scaffold as appropriate

  • Extend if possible

  • Return to the objectives

Final Thoughts


Don’t let unfamiliarity with Zoom throw off your mock class. People have varying opinions of the Zoom software. I personally think it works well, but many others feel differently. Regardless of how you feel, make an effort to familiarize yourself with the software before your mock class. Using the text function to create sentence stems on the screen (or model correct sentences) is a great tool. Bear in mind that students learn differently, and some students are visual learners who need to ‘see’ what is correct.


Rewards and incentives are a great way to encourage positive behavior in your class. You may choose a ‘give a star’ to a student for making a good effort. You can hold up a cut out of a paper star. Ensure that students know you are praising their effort and not whether their answer is correct or not.


Finally, you may not have your ideal teaching space set up yet, but make an effort to create a visually pleasing background for students. Your background doesn’t have to be perfect, but check out Pinterest for some great examples and try to show that you’ve made a strong effort to make your class engaging.

Remember, no one expects your lesson to be perfect! Whales offers a ton of different classes, and you will receive training in the specific course that you are going to teach. Hopefully today’s blog brings you closer to your goal of working with a great online company!




Whales hires native English-speaking teachers from the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. Applicants must have a BA + one year of teaching experience. A strong desire to work with young learners is required. A TEFL is not required at the time of application, but the applicant needs to earn one eventually. Of course, a TEFL certificate does strengthen your application. Check out International Open Academy for an affordable TEFL option.