Distance Learning Tips for Teachers

Distance Learning Tips for Teachers

caroline hazelton we teach memberI’m writing to you from the epicenter of the pandemic in South Florida. Within two weeks of the beginning of March, my adult education school morphed our familiar evening class “communities” to virtual meetings. “Get your sea legs, we’re in this for the long haul!” we were cheered on. And it worked. We rose to the challenge. Our students did, too. We all succeeded, a bright hope in the dark days we live in.

After hitting the ground running the last four months, I’m finally able to reflect on my experiences of how to succeed in the distance learning classroom as an adult education ESOL teacher. Think in terms of simplicity, connection, and taking advantage of the situation.

Simplicity: Distance Learning’s Best Friend

Technology itself will likely be taking up too much of the students’ mental energy. Keep your class to the basics. It is your best bet for students’ motivation to return when things seem complicated. You don’t want to lose students because they don’t know how to use all of the buttons, icons, etc. on your platform. Less is more… and less is even better if you use what students already know.  

Keep in mind the limits of your own devices. In face-to-face language classes, I liked to show a lot of culturally authentic videos and websites to supplement curriculum. However, when we tried distance learning, my favorite YouTube videos just slowed down my WiFi… and therefore, my lesson. I kept it simple with just our curriculum and PowerPoints. My mantra is: “If it’s not working, keep moving!” 

A photo of an Apple computer, which can be used for distance learning


Our opportunities to connect in the physical classroom are usually plentiful but are so fewer over Zoom. My teaching mantra is “Students don’t know how much you know until they know how much you care.” I used to teach students that I cared about them through our daily interactions. But when the pandemic came, I had to find ways to make up for those interactions. I made a class WhatsApp group to talk to students every day… sometimes even on weekends! We found things to talk about related to class and built on relationships to rebuild those connections. 

Meeting with students one on one helped make connections with them. I made appointment times of twenty minutes each one night a week. Students could come into the virtual room and practice either a designated activity or have a free conversation. This helped me build a relationship and rapport with each student. I learned more about their English abilities, goals, and even their lives. They felt as if they knew me personally and were more likely to come.

I found that while distance learning, contacting students was more important than ever. Every day I contacted students who were absent, who had a bad day, or who had some special circumstances going on. Having accountability and people to cheer you on is so important to an education.

A photo of a woman looking at an iPad, which can be used for distance learning

Take Advantage of the Situation

Even though the circumstances that require distance learning are bad, there are incredible advantages to distance learning! This is the one opportunity you can learn from anywhere in the world. Vacations, traveling overseas temporarily, even staying late for work one night are all accessible with a class on Zoom. Families don’t have to worry about childcare because they attend class from their home. Finally, you can multitask-attend class on the bus, fold laundry and learn or even eat dinner-and still attend class.

A New Market

In my opinion, there is a new market schools can attract with online classes, as I learned from a Burlington English webinar. The possibilities are endless. Courses can be offered to anyone in the world. Employers with high numbers of  English as Second Language speakers could arrange for them to attend English classes on-site through virtual learning. I think what you can offer really depends on the rules of your school, but get creative!

Distance Learning can be done from anywhere, like in this photo of a girl next to a canal.

Overall, to my fellow teachers — just be there to check in on your students. Find out how they are handling the pandemic financially, emotionally, etc. We are in this together. We make the challenges simple, we connect to our students, and we seize each moment.

by Caroline Hazelton

17 thoughts on “Distance Learning Tips for Teachers

  1. I feel for all the teachers today. I know so many and my son is one. Its hard!!! Know that so many are praying for you daily.

  2. These are some great tips – it is amazing how things can be done online for students and it all can be adapted for their needs.

  3. I cannot even imagine teaching or learning through ON LINE portals. I had to do it TWICE in college and for my master’s degree and I hated all of it! I am more of an IN PERSON kind of learner so I would struggle HARD CORE!

  4. I think it’s wonderful there are so many courses available online now. I give so much credit to teachers having to teach online and in person.

  5. You are a fabulous teacher. I can feel how much you care about your students!

  6. My girls are doing school online, and they enjoy it. –Of course it’s not for everyone, and that is okay! The teachers will normally do a one on one in the live lesson room. I think it is very important, and it really does help. You are doing an amazing job!

  7. My niece is doing online class. It is not easy for the teachers too. Salute to all of you! I hope this pandemic ends and everything will be back to normal.

  8. I think teaching is already one of the hardest jobs, but now it’s even more difficult. I really feel for the kids and teachers at this time.

  9. Online learning can be so hard, so I’m glad you’ve shared a few tips to make it easier on the students and teachers!

  10. These are really great tips and points. I salute all teachers who are making big efforts in order to teach our kids during this pandemic.

  11. Shifting to teaching ESOL or EFL or ESL online can really be seen as an opportunity, though it does have its challenges. Teaching has its challenges in general, though. Thanks for this post.

  12. I don’t teach ESL (although I have in the past), but I did have to move my junior high ELA classes online this spring as well. So many of your observations work for any virtual class. Connections and relationships were more important than ever, especially since the students were so isolated. Every Friday, we played a game or did something fun over Zoom–a dance off, scavenger hunt, Scattergories…

  13. It is great to have online live classes but only if you have fine connection. In my country (and I live in capital) it is still very bumpy.

  14. Some great tips here. You sound like a very caring and considerate teacher, your students are very lucky.
    I have also been doing zoom and skype sessions with my students, and it has worked surprisingly well. I am definitely going to expand this and keep several of my days online in the future.

  15. I am getting ready to go back to school shortly, and doing so online. So this article held a particular interest to me, learning about both the challenges and advantages of it. Online learning seems to be the new thing since the Coronavirus, but I think it will be easier with my schedule.

  16. This year is definitely sending us for a bit of a loop, but it’s a great opportunity to adapt and evolve. We are SO lucky to live in a world where we have a wealth of technology at our fingertips, we just need to learn to use it effectively. I have been impressed by the number of organizations that are stepping up and coming out with new opportunities to learn online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.