Pointers for Better Online Teaching


With economies across the world stalled under the effects of the Coronavirus, lives and work have been upended for most. For those fortunate enough not to have suffered the direct health effects of the virus or the grief of lost loved ones, there is still the uncertainty of employment to handle. For many teachers here in Japan, this means either job loss or drastic pivoting in our modes of work. 

While teaching online is nothing new in the field of education, and English language learners are accustomed to taking lessons from the comfort of their own homes, the need to stand out in the market has increased after the influx of online teaching during the pandemic. Simple standards kept across all teaching platforms can improve marketability and sustain performance. The following is not an exhaustive list but should be a foundation for steady delivery while working remotely.


Lighting & Background


Good lighting is standard, but this becomes paramount when your Zoom meetings become an essential part of how you deliver your service. Lighting should be overhead and facing you without spotlighting you against the background. Plain backgrounds are best. Too-casual environments and cluttered or broken backgrounds may not be obviously detrimental, but you miss out on the chance to re-create the focused zone that a classroom atmosphere would otherwise invoke.

Controlling your environment is also a way to set yourself apart in the market. If students see the same, near-perfect lighting each time they have a lesson with you, they will begin to associate it with you. This is an obvious advantage over competitors whose teaching environments are distracting or inconsistent in quality. Of course, if you are working with a company, adhering to its protocol and using a company-themed virtual background is usually preferred. However, with many teachers working freelance after major cut-backs or bankruptcies, setting a personal protocol is a good way for them to elicit this brand effect.




Keeping an appropriate distance from the camera and being aware of when and how you leave this position in order to demonstrate your material will also go a long way in managing the lesson flow. Having a good sense of a center to which you return regardless of what you do on screen elicits an expectation from the student that can help ground their focus on the material rather than your image. Having a sustained awareness of a center will also help cut down on distractions that you might not be aware of when you are engaged in the lesson. 

Try to keep a distance from the screen that sets you squarely in the frame from the chest up. Many Zoom users make the mistake of sitting back from the screen as they would when watching programs or sitting in meetings. The other mistake is to lean in close to the screen while looking at the material being presented. This can be distracting enough in general meetings, but during a lesson, it can lead to the focus shifting from the material to the teacher, especially if your camera refocuses with changes to the picture. Keeping the focus flowing with the pace of the lesson should be foremost where student production is a mainstay of the service.




Photo by Lesia Valentain

Some other things to consider for effect are basic elements of quality. It’s easy to forget about voice tone and volume, especially if you are not accustomed to adapting your personal audio needs to a work standard. Make sure your microphone and camera are adequate to handle the needs of your students. Be sure to maintain a steady pitch of voice as well. Many teachers fall into the habit of speaking too softly online due to hearing themselves in the headset. The other temptation is to shout-talk into the receiver. Although it’s easy to forget your voice tone in a long day of lessons, keeping an even tone of voice will help you in other aspects of your delivery, such as language grading.

Another basic element of quality maintenance is the keeping of company standards if you are working under contract. Most companies have software that connects their instructors and students. It will only be to your advantage to be squared away with its ins and outs so that when technical issues arise, you are able to stay professional and resourceful. 




For teachers who are working under contract with English language schools, having a consensus on dress code is a simple way to maintain the company image. For those working freelance or with companies that do not maintain a standard for clothing, it can still benefit you to keep a standard for yourself. This latter situation needn’t be formal or even business apparel. Simply maintaining a similar standard for every lesson helps contribute to the personal brand that you are building through sustained efforts to keep your teaching environment the same across lessons.




Photo by Samule Sun

Other than the computer and yourself, the desk is probably the most important tool in the workspace. Creating a workstation that supports your positions from the start is the best way to set yourself up for sustained performance. Ergonomics gets a lot of traction these days, but thinking more in terms of general wellbeing is probably best for those of us juggling home life with work. As the pandemic continues and remote work is extended beyond what many have planned for, giving enough attention to a healthy work space early on can save you the time and lost energy of constant adjustments. 

When setting the height of your desk or chair, elbows should rest comfortably at your side at a ninety degree angle. This allows you to keep your back in the recommended “S” position –  not bolt upright but relaxed with natural curvature of the spine and shoulders held back. Finally, position your monitor so that the top of the screen is at eye level. This will encourage you to maintain a level gaze and not pitch forward or tilt your head back through the hours.

The desk should also support this posture. The temptation to lean into the computer screen is perhaps greater for teachers as we are connecting with other individuals directly throughout the day. This is especially true for those of us teaching in Japan and using kotatsu or other low surfaces for telework. A table that is too high will also encourage you to lean forward as you tire of lifting your elbows. Over the course of the day, this will mean pressure on the diaphragm and shallow breathing. 


Staying Connected


Photo by Chris Montgomery

For those of us teaching with companies, don’t miss the feedback you would normally get from an office environment. While it might be great to work independently, if you are still part of a team, regularly seek out contact with a supervisor or colleague. Touching base will ensure that you don’t miss out on valuable information, coaching, and the subtle smoothing of the edges that occurs in more directly collaborative environments. 

While our offices may be spread thin, our workloads are not, and staying in touch with your colleagues becomes therefore much more important in keeping the team together. Especially in fast-paced  environments, the danger of siloing is greater when you are out of the office environment. Proactively engaging the regular tools of communication and scheduling regular video meetings with team members or managers is important to staying informed and keeping your work in line with your team. It’s also just good practice for team spirit and motivation and an element over which you can exercise significant control.



While much of the above advice is simple and seemingly obvious, it is easy to neglect. Keeping these standards in place will have a cumulative effect on performance in the long run. Thinking of the ideas like a process that is up to you to keep running smoothly will allow you to keep distractions to a minimum and have lesson quality remain the proper focus of your work.