Participating in ORTESOL’s Spring Institute 2021 served in part to remind me of the changing landscape of our profession. In my presentation, I focused on my own personal transition to online teaching, which took place more than ten years ago. At this point in time, teachers who were forced to move online in 2020 because of COVID are starting to transition back to in-person learning. Among them are some who don’t wish to let their newfound skills in the virtual classroom go to waste. In fact, interest in online teaching has peaked over the past year. Some are wondering how to keep the door open by independently establishing an online presence as a teacher.
Maybe you’re thinking about tutoring on the side in addition to your teaching load at your present school. Or you might be thinking of creating digital materials for publication. No matter what plans you’ve begun to form, you’ll need to think about how to become visible and how to market yourself as a source of language instruction to online learners.
I’m far from an entrepreneurial giant; I’m more like a busy little bee in my happy little garden. Continuing with this analogy, my greatest success may very well be that my garden has survived this long. Much grander and lusher gardens have grown around me, but my little patch of fertile soil continues to yield things of value. I’ve faced bad weather, weeds, and pests, but I’m still here. Me and my garden!
Allow me to share eight tips for those who wonder how to start planting the seeds for their own online dream.
1. Start small. I started on YouTube because I wanted to post video lessons. YouTube was the most logical choice in 2007. If I were starting today, I might be tempted to use only Instagram. It’s linked to Facebook, so you can easily post on both platforms at the same time. Main video posts on Instagram are limited to one minute, so less time is invested compared to the average YouTube video. Both Instagram and YouTube have large populations of ELLs.
In time, you can decide to grow your presence by posting on a second or third platform. Social media doesn’t have to dominate your life. Build your presence gradually so that you feel comfortable with the amount of time you’re investing.
2. Choose the medium that feels most comfortable. Maybe video intimidates you right now, or the medium simply doesn’t stimulate the creative juices in you. Okay. How about images? Well-made infographics or illustrative photos with the right text can also be impactful. On Instagram, you can even post a series of photos that viewers swipe through. This sets up all kinds of possibilities: Q&A, joke and punchline, short narratives, or an error correction task comprising the task, the answer, and the explanation.
If you choose to make videos, you can record from your phone. Smartphones these days have good picture quality. Consider getting a lapel mic or other external mic to ensure the audio quality is good, too.
3. Know who and what you’re targeting. Don’t just post whatever comes to mind. Be conscious of your target audience. Is your specialty business English? Is your passion pronunciation? Maybe you want to present yourself as an academic writing guru or a TOEFL specialist. Do you speak another language and do you want to provide instruction in the L1 and L2?
In short, who are you and how do you want to be seen? Your social media posts should give a clear impression of what you can offer. So should your username, for that matter! Don’t fall back on a username you came up with back in your college days, like fungirl88 or cooldude99. I try to use @englishwithjennifer or @englishwithjenniferlebedev on every platform.
4. Carefully craft your bio or profile description. Different platforms have different character limits. Give a consistent impression. Use a consistent tone.
My website tagline:
Learn to communicate confidently and effectively in English.
My Twitter description:
Teaching English for effective communication. Lessons delivered from the heart. Happy studies!
My Instagram description:
Learn to communicate confidently and effectively in English. Become a member on Patreon! English with Jennifer Subscribe on YouTube! Happy studies!
The first line on my YouTube channel description page:
Let me help you communicate more confidently and effectively in English.
And the last line of that description? Happy studies!
Also, decide where you want to send people or what action you want them to take. On my Facebook page, I recently changed my Book Now button for private lessons to Sign Up for Patreon memberships. I have enough private students at the moment. I’d rather increase the number of members I have. In my IG description, I’m encouraging learners to subscribe on YouTube and consider Patreon memberships, but since only one hyperlink is possible, I’m promoting Patreon at the moment. If you’re offering private instruction, you can write, “DM me for private lessons.” Then be sure to check your messages daily for any inquiries. If you put together an eBook or course, then the appropriate link can shared in your profile.
Note that Instagram highlights are also good for promotional materials. (Those are saved Stories, and you can organized them under different highlight buttons: My Book, Writing Course, Online Lessons, About Me, etc.)
5. Keep a degree of separation between your personal life and professional activity. Learners will be curious about who you are, and opening up a bit will allow for a connection, but don’t include tons of family videos, pet photos, and random snapshots of rainbows among your ESL posts. On most social media platforms, you can have multiple accounts or pages. On Facebook, I have my personal page and my English with Jennifer page. On Instagram, I have the same division. Another option is to share personal moments from your day as a Story. Stories on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are a means to offer a slice of your life without saturating your professional library of resources with irrelevant posts.
Incidentally, when I was learning how to use Instagram, I experimented on my private account to see how a post would look. Then I deleted the content and reloaded it on my business account when I was sure what I was doing.
6. Post regularly. Establishing an online presence takes time, and then it’s a matter of staying visible. Those who gain traction post regularly and frequently. Again, consider how much you can invest. On Instagram, I only post once a week because that’s the most I can commit to on a regular basis. I do my best to post on the same day every week. Followers appreciate consistency.
Find a rhythm to keep up with the posts. I know I need to carve out time on three days at the end of each month: Day 1 – Write my Instagram scripts. Day 2 – Film the clips on my phone. Day 3 – Edit the videos on my computer and store them in Dropbox. Then every Monday morning I download a clip from Dropbox to my phone and then post on Instagram. As for YouTube, I post every Thursday, so I write the script/lesson plan on Monday, film on Tuesday, and edit on Wednesday and Thursday.
7. Engage with your audience. Hopefully, your posts will get comments. In fact, invite comments. You want some interaction, and feedback will help you understand what learners like. Check in on a regular basis. Be aware of views, likes, and comments. These insights will guide your future choices.
8. Engage with your online peers. There are many other English language teachers online. They aren’t necessarily your competition. They can be a source of support. Accept an invitation to go live or collaborate. Support their posts with a like and a comment on content you respect. Be genuine and never use another teacher’s platform to promote yourself. Selfless interaction will go a long way. I personally value word-of-mouth recommendations. It means I’ve earned someone’s trust and respect.
To those ready to venture deeper into the online world of teaching, I wish you good luck and many rewards!
Have you become an online teacher overnight? Tips and Tricks (2020)
3 key challenges of working online (2018)
Working through a webcam (2014)