“You’re probably wondering how I got here.” Probably not, but you might be wondering what the process is for when you want to start teaching English and become an Online English Teacher. You don’t need Elon Musk’s latest technology or fluency in a second language. You only need a trusty computer, a webcam, and the desire to actually teach English (or earn money). Of course, there are many things your potential employer will consider, such as your experience, qualification, and personality.
I am by no means an online teaching guru. In fact, I’m very clumsy, one might even say moronic. Don’t get me wrong, I like to think of myself as an effective teacher, but my personality doesn’t scream “educator”. You’ll find very different people teaching online. They might have little or plenty of experience, a crazy or calm personality, they could be teaching online part-time or full-time. There is no perfect formula for an online teacher, you could fall into any category, and it might still be perfect for you! Here’s how I got started!
My Experience – How Did I Start Teaching English?
After graduating with an English Literature degree from Liverpool in the UK, I set my sights overseas. I began my TEFL journey through with a paid Vietnam Internship A course qualification, accommodation, and a job placement in one package? It sounded too good to be true. I was able to gain invaluable work experience while exploring a new and beautiful country. Vietnam was the perfect country to welcome me to the other side of the world, exposing me to a whole new culture and lifestyle.
It was initially intimidating but crucial for my personal growth. What I saw as a test and an opportunity for self-improvement became something I fell in love with. The landscape, the cheap beer, the friendly locals, I would recommend Vietnam to anyone and everyone. What I thought would be a little side quest became a massive part of my life, it was so nice, that I had to try it twice! I signed for another academic year with a company that was based in Hanoi and immersed myself in its exotic qualities.
During the summer break, I taught English at a summer camp up in the stunning mountains of Romania. With more peaks in sight than buildings, It was incredibly remote which created an intimate environment for the English trainers. Despite looking over my shoulder for bears and vampires, this was a very refreshing interlude to my Vietnam experience. Although Vietnam is stunning, Hanoi can be noisy and chaotic. Păltiniș was its polarisation, and it exemplified natural tranquility.
It was also refreshing to teach English in a more active and engaging environment. The summer camp atmosphere is incredibly fun, you are more of a ‘team leader’ than a ‘teacher’. You get to know the kids very well and build an amazing rapport in such a short period of time.
How Much Experience Do You Need to Start Teaching English?
Despite how working in these locations was a huge deal for myself, it was still only over a year of teaching experience. I was still a puppy in teacher terms when I applied to teach online. Having prior ESL teaching experience is unarguably beneficial, but it’s not essential.
You need enthusiasm, a TEFL qualification, and some training which is provided by most companies. While most companies will expect you to already be qualified, it isn’t a requirement for some. I personally know online teachers that had zero prior experience with children, let alone teaching. However, this may affect your salary. Fortunately, I was well-equipped to teach online due to my qualification and experience I gained with my TEFL internship and course.
Why I became an Online English Teacher
I could sit here and tell you how passionate I am about my Lenovo laptop. Truthfully, though, I was bored and looking for ways to earn money. Maybe you and I have this in common!
Due to the dreaded c-word (yawn), the Vietnamese government decided to shut schools, leaving me with plenty of time to direct my teaching elsewhere. I’d have been there longer if it wasn’t for that meddling virus! With countries going into lockdown, I took the initiative to utilize my cross-cultural communication skills where learning was still accessible and safe – online!
While lives were at risk, so were children’s education. Many students turned to online education platforms, meaning there was a surge in demand for qualified teachers. Because online platforms have gained more exposure from students, it is becoming an increasingly viable option for teachers.
Classroom… Online… What’s the Difference?
As the old adage goes, “you say tomato, I say tomato.” Well, in this case, the online vs classroom debate is more of a potato vs tomato debate. Despite similar lesson objectives, teaching online is very different to the classroom. ‘Tutor’ is probably more applicable to describe your role, as you’ll be guiding a single student or a very small group of students. With such small classes, you can tailor your lesson to accommodate particular learning groups.
Whether your student is a visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic learner, you can design your lesson to optimize their development. However, it may be difficult to conduct some lessons for kinaesthetic learners, who thrive from physical activities. Furthermore, the online student will receive direct feedback and maximum attention, making them feel much more involved than in the classroom. Similarly, students will feel less intimidated to raise their hands when there’s no class clown to capitalize on wrong answers! Lack of physical presence can create a more relaxed environment than the standard classroom.
While this can encourage participation, the virtual classroom has its disadvantages which can cause frustration. It may be difficult to engage or discipline a disruptive student who doesn’t worry about pixels on a screen. Someone might even have technical difficulties due to poor connection or low-quality equipment.
While schools will give you a fixed schedule, you will have a more flexible schedule online. This is an advantage if you don’t want to roll out of bed and go straight to work, you can choose your own hours… somewhat. You will need to take into consideration what the peak hours are for the region you are teaching. Most online companies will accommodate Asian students, you should consider the difference between your timezone and your students!
The Interview Process
Before you start teaching English, you need to go through the interview process. My interviews consisted of over-exaggerating my skills and experience, followed by a brief mock-lesson. This is the time to love yourself like Kanye loves Kanye, you won’t get anywhere saying that you’re “decent” at something. Exuding confidence in your own abilities will go a long way. Be sure to mention any experience that you have with children, whether it’s related to teaching or not. Your employer needs to know they’re hiring someone who understands how to engage with children!
My first mock-lesson was a little daunting, and this would especially be the case for someone with no teaching experience. To test your initiative, the interviewer will act as a student struggling with the lesson. A middle-aged person acting like a 5-year-old can be hilarious, cringy, or downright disturbing, but don’t let it affect you.
Remember, you can learn skills, but you can’t learn a personality. Interviewers will take your experience into consideration, so don’t worry if you make mistakes! An untrained yet enthusiastic candidate is more convincing than a trained yet lifeless candidate. Focus on being enthusiastic, welcoming, and use plenty of body language! It’s important that you utilize mimes and gestures to elicit a response from the student. Embrace any constructive comments, practice makes perfect by “perfect” I mean higher pay!
Choosing the Right Company
I completed interviews and accepted job offers from online companies iTutorGroup and DaDaABC while I was in Vietnam. Despite this, I began teaching back in the UK. Your location isn’t a concern for most companies. I applied for multiple companies to broaden my options and consider what is best for myself. There are many things you should consider, so don’t feel coerced into accepting the first offer you receive.
During the application or interview, you can make your preference clear regarding teaching particular levels or ages. Don’t be afraid to do so if you think this would benefit your experience! If you think teaching children will be too demanding, you can direct your focus to teaching adults, or vice versa! However, before you start teaching English, take into consideration the time zone your teaching company operates in and how it will affect your hours!
A Day in the Life of an Online English Teacher
Residing in the UK, my typical weekday consists of teaching children between 10am – 2:30pm, and teaching adults until around 5pm. If you’re US based, expect to be teaching much earlier in the day. As an Online English Teacher, you’ll have plenty of lessons but still, find time to binge-watch The Office or read your so-called “bestseller” book. I’m able to get my morning exercise and life tasks done with plenty of time to spare.
I teach every day of the week, but due to frequent coffee breaks and a lack of admin work after class, I am able to sustain this. Fortunately, online companies will usually allow you to take days off if you schedule in advance. Remember to ask your potential company about their short-term leave policy if you’re concerned! Initially, each day was different as I might have had 3 lessons one day, and 8 the next. But once I established myself as an online teacher, my schedule became more stable.
‘Peak’ learning hours for adults will be later than the children for obvious reasons. They usually learn English until 5pm, (around midnight China, South Korea, etc) and many still get up at 6am the following morning! My morning exercise and evening reading a generic self-help book is nothing compared to their 9-hour shift and late-night English lessons. On the weekend, however, adults will be much more flexible and can learn English from the morning to around 5pm UK time.
Teaching English Online: A Long-Term Job?
With the pandemic (ugh) and endless technological development, the world is becoming increasingly dependent on the internet. Can you name one thing that you can’t do on the internet? You’re right, you can’t erase Game of Thrones’ awful ending from your memory.
Anyway, online education has gained significant exposure recently. Schools and universities have moved their classes online while more people are learning skills and languages over the internet. Hopefully, this will lead to further development for online teaching companies; their infrastructure will improve, they’ll gain more students, and teachers will receive more benefits.
There is becoming more of an incentive to teach online as a full-time job. With millions of new students being introduced to online education, teachers are likely to have more opportunities. Not only this, but certain companies will offer teachers bonuses depending on performance and hours taught. You can climb the ESL ladder from the comfort of your own home, earn money without spending it on transport or disgusting meal “deals”.
Just Remember to Be Patient
This is just a little insight into my experience with freelance online English teaching! You’ll encounter many other teachers who have different qualifications, perspectives, and aspirations. Some will view it as a full-time job, whereas others will view it as a part-time job to earn extra cash alongside another job or their studies. Ultimately, you should remember to be patient when you first start. Hours will pick up as you gain exposure and a wider network of students. I went from teaching 3 hours a week to teaching up to 5-6 hours on particular days! If you’re experiencing a dilemma whether to become an online ESL teacher, you won’t know until you try it, and remember, you have nothing to lose!