Ria ditched her nonprofit office job in Chicago to teach English overseas. Needless to say, that transition gave her a fresh perspective.
With high-speed internet becoming more widespread around the world, the market for online English classes is growing. Many countries, like China, have a large population of parents seeking small-size English classes to supplement their child's English lessons at school. Since recruiting native English speakers to teach abroad is hard, companies have begun to rely on online freelancers to meet demand.
Like with any online freelancing, though, there are pros and cons to online English teaching. Here are some of the basics to consider when preparing to apply for an online teaching job.
For an entry-level job that only requires a college degree and has flexible hours, the pay for online English teaching isn't bad. You can make at least $12 an hour immediately, with many companies offering merit and attendance bonuses as well as raises. If you have certification or prior experience, you can make even more. A very experienced and credentialed teacher can make $30 an hour if you get rid of the middleman by recruiting your own client base.
With various students located around the world, English teaching online has the most flexible hours of any teaching job. You can wake up early and teach two students before you head to your day job, or stay up late and teach some cute kids their morning lesson. There are ample Saturday lessons available as well.
Wide Range of Students
Some online teaching platforms specialize in kids' lessons, while others specialize in high school tutoring or business English. If you prefer small group lessons over individual lessons, you can usually find an employer who will give you those as well. If you go through a more independent platform like iTalki, you have even greater control over who your students are.
Fun and Dynamic
Whether you're teaching middle-aged businessmen or three-year-olds, you'll find some way to bring some creativity into your lesson. Plus, your students will always be full of surprises. Kids can be incredibly funny and clever, and more advanced students will sometimes have insightful and informative things to say. You're guaranteed to learn something about another culture if you teach English online.
While working for an online English school usually means a steady stream of students, the downside is that you might make a little less because the company takes a decent chunk of the class fee. The alternative, though, is working through a platform like iTalki - where you'll be competing with a lot of other teachers! iTalki takes a smaller portion of your class fee, but the amount of competition around means that you'll have to charge a lot less when you first start out. Once you get enough reviews, it's a lot easier to make money.
If you're not charismatic, friendly, and fairly high-energy by nature, you'll find teaching online to be just as hard as teaching in person - and possibly even harder! In a normal classroom, you can have students do a worksheet and play educational games with each other sometimes. In small group and individual online teaching, you'll spend a lot more time talking, and your students will notice if you start to get bored or tired midway through the lesson.
Some online English schools have a pre-designed curriculum that requires minimum preparation by you, but many require some work outside of your paid class hours! This can easily knock your actual hourly pay down below $10 an hour if you're not careful. While experienced teachers won't need as much time to prep, the slog of lesson planning can easily overwhelm newer teachers.
English companies and more open platforms alike allow customers to review their teachers. While this is excellent for getting feedback and improving your craft, it can also mean sometimes dealing with unrealistic expectations. This can be especially true if teaching small children, since sometimes parents don't realize how hard it can be to get a four-year-old to pay attention! If you're working for an English company, it can also very hard to get them to reassign a student who is rude or uncooperative.
Online English teaching may be appealing to wannabe digital nomads, but you need stable, fast internet in order to teach your lessons without any problems. If you experience connection problems mid-lesson, you may end up being docked pay, and repeated problems could cause you to be fired! Some companies also want teachers to be based in specific countries, and while the reasons vary, they're sometimes related to internet connectivity.
Since many English learners are in Asia, the most in-demand hours are very early in the morning for North America or in the middle of the day for the U.K. Plus, some companies require teachers to take a minimum number of hours during peak times, so you can't just politely refuse certain times. Some companies also set a minimum or maximum number of hours you can work per week, and it may be more or less than what you really want.
The Verdict: If You Don't Like Teaching, Stay Away
Teaching English online has enough quirks and limitations that it's not a magic bullet for your work-at-home or digital nomad goals. It's good for people who love teaching, or stay-at-home moms who have plenty of toys and props around to supplement their lesson materials.
If you've ever actually enjoyed tutoring, working at a summer camp, or babysitting, it might be worth it to give English teaching a try. You might have the energy levels and charisma necessary to make it work.
If you really don't want to teach kids, you might need more advanced certification in order to get your foot in the door at a company that exclusively gives you older students. However, flexible teachers who can deal with a wide range of ages will find that teaching English online is one of the best flexible gigs that only requires a college degree.
Geb on April 23, 2020:
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Cristina Cakes from Virginia on June 20, 2019:
I often wondered if I would enjoy that as a second job. Your article provided a lot of great insight to the pros and cons of the job. Thank you!
Liz Westwood from UK on June 19, 2019:
This gives a balanced view on online teaching based on personal experience.