Monday, August 3, 2009

Lesson Ettiquette - Dos and Don'ts

Hello all, Before I go into this I just want to say that MOST tutors on Cafetalk are very conscientious and professional, and probably don't need any advice of this kind. But based on feedback I've been receiving from many students, I know that some tutors could do with a few tips on how they can make a better impression, so here we go. DO
  • Show up on lessons on time Punctuality is super duper important. Especially in Japanese culture.
  • Add "value" to the lesson Even when doing casual "freetalk" style lessons, a good tutor will try to probe the student's weaknesses, try to slip in new vocabulary and phrases that the student might not know, etc. It's okay to give the impression that you are simply conversing casually but you should always be calculating and thinking about the best way to execute a lesson. Students will definitely feel the difference. Again, add value. It's simply not enough to ch without thinking.
  • Type out key vocabulary and phrases in the chat window. Student's really do appreciate this. But you should try to do it without breaking the natural flow of the conversation when you type.
  • Send a chat message before pressing the "call" button on skype. A simple "Hello, may I call now?" or "Shall we start the lesson?" would be good. Just pressing the call button may seem a little abrupt.
  • Make comments with sexual overtones whatsoever. If you need to be told this, you don't deserve to teach in the first place. Even if you think you've established a very close relationship with a student NEVER, NEVER cross that line. Don't even ask about boyfriends or girlfriends.
  • Complain to your students about your lessons. In fact, it's best to avoid whining of any sort. Your fees may not be as high as you like; you may not be getting many students; your girlfriend may have left you; and you life may be in shambles, but your student probably doesn't want to heart about it. And don't make any negative comments about other tutors on Cafetalk. That's a serious blow below the belt.
  • SPAM your students with unsolicited messages. One message after you haven't heard from a student in a while may be acceptable. But don't go on pestering the student if she doesn't reply.
  • Try to extend a lesson beyond the requested amount of time. You'd be surprised at the number of tutors who try to do this. If you say on your lesson profile that you're offering the lesson for 15 or however many minutes stick to it. Don't try to prolong the lesson and get that extra charge. You'll most definitely lose the student. However, it is acceptable to ask the student whether she would like to schedule another lesson at a later date. But don't be pushy! Let the student think about it if she wants to.
  • Solicit your students to have lessons outside of Cafetalk. I understand the urge to bypass Cafetalk altogether, but please don't give in to this temptation. Besides that it's morally questionable, many students find such solicitations unacceptable and will likely report you to us.
These are just a few things based on what I've heard from students on what they like and don't like. I may be adding more later on but that's it for now. Happy teaching!


  1. Much to say on this subject and posts are limited in length, so may be a couple of posts to get all my ideas out to you.

    The "Do" list is very good.

    Being on time is a sign of professional conduct and a guarantee that there will be no friction on that front. Americans and English people also like to be on time, so that is good advice to follow no matter what your culture is.

    Added value is important as well. Just chatting might be OK once in a while if you have developed a good rapport with the student, but it is always a good idea to send them a message with a link to something interesting to talk about before the class. This makes the student more responsible and helps the tutor to be more prepared for the class with vocabulary, structures etc.

    Sometimes we need to remind the students to keep the chat window open. Some students don't want tutors to use the chat constantly in the class, but since the chats are saved on the tutor's and the student's computers, this is an excellent source for review of what has been gone over in the class, again, vocab, structure etc....

    Finally, I personally fully support the "send a hello" through the chat function of Skype. You can't possibly know if the student is sitting there waiting for you to call them or if they have turned on the computer and then gone to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Sending a "hello" lets the student know that you are ready, and once the student has said "hello" back, then the tutor can make the connection and the class can get under way.

    More in later posts.

    Mr Spears

  2. And now, for the "don't" list.

    A couple of years ago, I innocently sent an editorial to several of my students concerning the parent's role in educating their children. The article pointed out that many times parents don't talk to their kids about difficult subjects, such as drugs, crime, school failure, sex, etc....

    Four of the five students who received this article were quite willing to discuss the topic with me. One, however, was embarrassed that the article included sex. This student did not request any future classes with me.

    So, even though the topic was not about "sex" per se, it is difficult to know if a student will be offended or bothered by the subject showing up in a class. When I was studying to be a salesman, we were taught that there were three topics that should never be brought up during a sales pitch: Sex, religion and politics. These are touchy subjects for many people and are probably best avoided.

    Of course, if a student asks you to explain your religious practices or your opinion about the elections in the USA, you can politely and diplomatically explain either that you don't usually talk about such things or just be an "informant", explaining some of the more general information involved. However, this is very hard to do with "sex". I think that is best left for other types of websites and has no place in an English class.

    Being "happy" and "positive" and "optimistic" is much better than being a complainer. Naturally, sometimes a chat can become a mutual complaint session, but it is much better to look on the bright side of life with these people who are your students, who live on the other side of the world, who have their own problems and worries, and are probably looking for a respite from such when having a chat with their online tutor.

    In some professions, such as dentistry, a professional will never criticize a fellow professional in front of a client. There are other ways of dealing with such, but the client is not part of the plan. If a student complains about another tutor it is usually best to simply say that you don't know this other tutor nor his/her methods and maybe suggest that the student get in touch with Cafétalk with their comments. Tutors are tutors, not administrators.

    More in a later post!

    Mr Spears.

  3. Related to the "no sex" rule:

    Sometimes it is difficult to know when a topic of conversation will be uncomfortable for a student.

    Recently, a student of mine had to cancel class because of the death of a family member. In my culture it is normal to send condolences and in a later conversation talk a bit about the lost loved-one. However, on reading up on the subject in Japanese culture, I found that such is maybe not so acceptable. Fortunately, this student brought up the subject herself and talked openly and freely about the arrangements and difficulties brought on by the loss and asked some very interesting questions concerning how death is dealt with in my culture.

    What I am wondering, then, is if there are other "taboo" subjects out there that, because of cultural differences, we tutors may not be aware of? Sex is a pretty obvious one, even death may be uncomfortable. But, how about other aspects of life that Japanese people usually feel uncomfortable talking about? If any of the Japanese who follow this blog have any suggestions of other topics that might cause friction, it would be very interesting for us non-Japanese to know about them before we end up with our feet in our mouths!

    Mr Spears.

  4. Final post.

    It is highly unprofessional to "steal" students from any service that has gotten you together with them. Cafétalk offers an excellent platform for connecting students with tutors that probably has a cost. Suggesting to a student that they pay you directly is like biting the hand that feeds you. And, as mentioned in the original post, most students will consider the offer to do classes outside of the Cafétalk framework as "shady" at best and downright wrong and bad at worst. It is a quick way to break the trust that is necessary for Cafétalk to work efficiently. Students will not only think poorly of the tutor who practices such, they might also wonder why Cafétalk has such a tutor on the payroll. Such behavior can only hurt the relationship of students with tutors, Cafétalk and the Internet in general.

    Be faithful to Cafétalk, they have been doing a good job up to now, are always ready to help out new tutors and are always making improvements in the system and platform so that the experience is agreeable for everyone. Taking a student away from Cafétalk would not be correct.

    Mr Spears

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. You left out an important part of any class.
    Preparing a class for the student
    Prior preparation prevents poor performance!
    I own an online Spanish school and always have my tutors prepare a class for the student, even though it is time consuming.
    It makes everything run so much smoother when you are prepared.


Sometimes your comments might get "lost" due to update failure caused by a bad connection or a timeout. To prevent accidentally losing your comment we suggest you write it in a text file on your local PC, then copy and paste it in the comment form. That way you'll have a copy in case something happens. Also please note that we'll even publish comments that are critical as long as they are constructive. All your feedback are valuable to us!