Criticisms by students & class hostility in online ESL teaching

It doesn't matter whether you are in a physical or virtual classroom, if a student is dissatisfied with your performance in class, or that they feel they are not learning from you, you will find yourself dealing with different characters. How do you keep your sanity when this happens? Hostility in class may not exactly be violent in nature, but expect to be confronted with too many & frequent complaints or awkward silence. It doesn't matter if you're wearing a magician's hat and can pull bunny rabbits out from it, if they had already set in their minds their dislike, they will make you feel it.

You can have all the skills, knowledge and talent to teach, but you also have to be secure enough to not be affected by the student's unpleasant behavior. Of course, you still have the prerogative to refuse to be treated with disrespect and report the student for their rude conduct. For online teaching, it's better to practice not taking things personally or seriously and just continue doing what you are required to do.

When you feel that they are upset with something, just simply ask the student, for example: "Is there anything about this lesson content you feel confused?" Let them express their displeasure and assure them that you are there to help.

How do you deal with a hostile student?
If you find yourself at the receiving end of a student's dissatisfaction or displaced anger. Just keep an open mind and understand that just like you, they have concerns that bothers them. Or maybe they are just tired and the class time isn't conducive to their learning. I had this student who took a midnight class and she'd always end up snoring on me. So I would just leave her a note on Skype and give her homework, stating that it's to compensate for the lost class time. You just have to learn to keep your cool. In the context of the customer is always right, a teacher fighting with a student doesn't yield an attractive outcome. Just simply express your eagerness to help and present a different approach.

How to repel student criticisms?
Dissatisfaction is part of our humanity and no matter how much effort you put into something, on teacher-student relationship, if the person's mind is set, all that you can do is give it your best and know that you have done well despite the challenges. For online teaching, one of the best strategy to fend off student or parent criticism is establishing a strong footing with your teaching method. By this, I mean that you should have:
  • Set up your attendance record. Start and end on time.
  • You make sure that the student understand the lesson material by reviewing before class time.
  • Establish house rules. Having a principle that you stand by when it comes to class time.
  • Even if you do not have the answer to a question now, you still follow through a rain-check.
  • Infuse a little fun with illustrations, paper puppets for kids, a reward system like giving them a virtual award, medal or certificate screen shot for them to keep.
  • A good relationship with your manager.
Although popularity may puncture the ego bubble and disprove complaints, integrity is still your good weapon to fend off a student or parent's critical remarks.

How to redeem yourself?
No matter how patient one can be, we all have our boiling & breaking point. What if you find yourself in trouble because of aggression in class and you haven't really established a good impression as an online tutor? Simply acknowledge and take care that you will not give in to the student's antagonism on succeeding class or encounters, take things with a grain of salt, and decide to start building yourself up. Refuse to dwell on the embarrassment because your student will feel it and may repeat the deed just to get you upset. In my case, when a student is inhospitable with me, I just keep the session open-ended.

In conclusion, I learned that teaching is a humanitarian cause. It doesn't discriminate, nor it makes excuses for people's behavior. And it's a good way to sharpen your edges, so-to-speak.